Photo: Tony Alter via Flickr
When was the last time you scheduled an hour in the day just for you? If you’re a working parent, you probably look at the calendar and think, “Who in their right mind lives like this?”
Between getting the kids dressed and ready for school, the 4 p.m. work meeting, and soccer practice before the sun goes down, many parents struggle to find time to get it all done. And when life gets hectic (as it almost always is), exercise is often the first thing to go.
But what happens when this lack of self-care begins to affect your overall health and wellbeing?
Kelli Segars, co-owner of the online-workout site, Fitness Blender, said that to a lot of us, “Exercise looks like the easiest thing to cut out when life gets really hectic — it feels optional, or extra, maybe even a little self indulgent at times.”
What many people don’t realize though, is that it does not have to be an “all or nothing” mentality.
In fact, Dr. Paul Arciero, a doctor of physiology of exercise and the creator of the app Geniofit, which suggests exercises for the family to do together, said he believes the best way to combat this hectic lifestyle is to make exercise a part of your daily routine.
“Research consistently shows that exercise reduces stress and improves mood,” he said.
Arciero also emphasized the proven benefits of exercise to physical health and cognitive function across the age spectrum.
Here are eight tips for busy parents to fit fitness in, increase their overall health and wellbeing, and still have time for family and work duties.
1. Make exercise a priority
Finding time to workout really comes down to two basic strategies: you either look for small windows of time in your day to multi-task and squeeze a workout in — or you take the kids with you.
So, before you decide to take a black Sharpie to your workout, remember that “exercise is not just an investment in yourself, but also an investment in bettering yourself for everything you put effort into,” Segars said.
2. Don’t overthink it
At a minimum, adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and muscle-strength training activities on two or more days a week. That’s the equivalent of watching your favorite movie — and somehow there’s always time for that.
3. Don’t worry about when you exercise
Many people wonder when the best time of day to workout is. And my answer is often, “The one you will stick with.” Some people make it a habit to workout prior to starting the workday, while others swear by the stress release they get from hitting it hard after work.
4. Set a goal
Whether it’s training for your first 5K, losing weight, or mastering a few yoga poses, find an activity you enjoy and commit to it. Schedule weekly training sessions, and write them on your calendar or put them in your phone — just like you would a doctor’s appointment.
If running or walking is your exercise of choice, consider signing-up for a race that supports a charity you believe in. You’re less likely to quit if completing the event means other people will benefit.
5. Get creative with your steps
Tracking steps is all the rage right now, so why not put your fitness tracker to use with some creative ways to get your step count up? Walk back and forth the next time you’re on the phone, do laps around the soccer field while your child practices, and if work consists of sitting most of the day, get up and go for a short walk every couple of hours.
6. Try the 10 x 3 plan
If your goal is to exercise 30 minutes a day, try breaking up the time into three separate workouts. Take a 10-minute walk first thing in the morning, another 10-minute walk at lunch, and complete your 30 minutes with the final 10-minute walk after work.
7. Involve your kids when you can
This can be a real time-saver for working parents who struggle with being away from their kids outside of the work day. Not only does making exercise a family affair benefit the adults, it also helps your kids. Exposing kids to fitness at a young age has benefits that will last a lifetime. In fact, one study found a child engaged in more physical activity if their mother made exercise a high priority.
If you have an infant, consider investing in a quality jogging stroller and training for a 5K. For toddlers and young children, find something active they enjoy — kickball, bike riding, playing catch, swimming, dancing, soccer, and racket sports are all forms of exercise that are guaranteed to get your heart pumping.
8. Work out at home
On-the-go exercise programs have become hugely popular in the last several years as more and more people struggle to find time in the day for one more thing. At-home workouts offer flexibility, affordability, and convenience. Not to mention, your kids can get in on the fun too. They will love challenging you to a set of push-ups or high knees.
With a little bit of planning, a touch of creativity, and a whole lot of flexibility, busy parents can find a way to fit fitness in, increase their overall health and wellbeing, and still have time for family and work duties.